I did something I’m actually going to brag about, that I never would have thought I would have done in a million years, but it felt like such a step forward, I’ve been meaning to come here and write about it to show people just how far you move away from mistakes you made and how you don’t need to hide from who you are, no matter what has happened.
As many of you know, my uncle died about a week ago. He was one of those guys who was the glue in any group he was a part of, be it our family, his friends or his professional life. I won’t say the world revolved around him, but if his life was the show Seinfeld, he was the Jerry Seinfeld upon which everything was held together.
He was also an administrator in the school district I attended. Since I’m 43 and he died at 63, most of the teachers I had while he served are still alive and I knew many would attend his wake. I also know he was one of those guys who knew everybody and could theoretically foresee anybody walking through the doors of the funeral parlor, so when it came to his wake I was very nervous.
The people I have around me in life have pretty much all uniformly moved on from my arrest six years and the attention it drew. They’ve seen the new guy I’ve evolved into and life is pretty routine these days. For the first time since my arrest in early 2014, I was looking at seeing people I hadn’t seen since before that all went down.
I’ll be honest with everyone. I took an Ativan. It doesn’t escape me that 10 years ago, I would have had a couple drinks before going to something like this. I took a bunch of Ativan immediately after I was arrested and in the week leading up to going to jail. I also took it for about a month last year when I was going through debilitating anxiety attacks. I have been very cognizant to not take any more than I need. I took one about 30 minutes before leaving and haven’t needed another. I expressed hesitation to my wife, but as she said, “The medicine specifically exists to help you in a moment like this.”
At first I was sheepish. I saw my third-grade teacher, a cousin who had given me the cold shoulder for a while and a guy who was a freelancer at the magazine I owned. They were all friendly exchanges.
I don’t know why I chose them, but about an hour into things, my junior high school principal, who’s got to be 80, give or take (he was my mother’s 9th grade math teacher…and she’s 71) and his wife, who I worked with at the local newspaper for about five years before she retired approached me to express their condolences.
When they asked what I was up to, I explained that I ghostwrite books for people who are usually CEOs, working on self-help programs or simply want an autobiography. And then it hit me. I’m proud of my work with porn addiction. I’m not ashamed of it. It was nothing I set out to do, but it’s a problem and if my mission is to educate the world, I should let the world know what I’m doing.
“If you remember all that stuff that happened to me six years ago, I got my head on straight and now I write books about pornography addiction and try to help people and their families who are struggling with it,” I told them. “There was nothing for me when I wasn’t doing well, so I thought maybe I could make things better for other people. It’s a huge problem out there.”
They told me that they knew I did one book but were glad to hear I just released a second one. They said it seems like pornography is everywhere these days and they were proud of me. Then they each gave me a hug.
In my wildest dreams, since first meeting the man 31 years ago, I never thought that I’d hug my junior high school principal. I also don’t remember him being that short. I’ve grown.
Telling them what I do now was such a feeling of relief and moment of empowerment. I went on to tell probably four more people in the last two hours. I didn’t make it about me, I didn’t quote stats or do my podcast-style preaching. I just mentioned in matter-of-factly. The results were positive across the board.
Six years ago, when this all went down and it was headline news, I was scared to death. I barely left the house. If I went to a restaurant, it was 30 miles away. Over time, I’ve become comfortable being out in public locally and have been surprised just how few interactions I’ve had with people from my former life. I think that my uncle’s wake may have been a huge final step toward whatever level I end up at in being comfortable owning what I did and being open with what I do now, no matter who I’m talking to or where I am.
The last step is going to be the people who I work with. It never comes up, but most of them don’t know my real name. I intentionally hide it from them whenever possible, and when it has to be revealed for payment or tax purposes, I tell them I professionally just go by my first and middle name.
Anyway, my message is really just if you have something that you don’t think you can face, or something you feel shame an embarrassment about, try being open about it. Try with someone who you think will be safe. I mean, realistically, unless my mother dies very soon, I don’t think I’ll ever see my junior high school principal or his wife again. They were safe people, and it felt damn good. Damn good.